The government has played down a pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron that energy firms will be forced to give all customers the lowest tariff.
Mr Cameron made the surprise announcement on Wednesday at prime minister’s questions.
But a minister summoned to the Commons to explain what the PM meant said the details had still to be worked out.
John Hayes vowed to help consumers “get the best deal” – but Labour accused the government of being in “chaos”.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said it had been a “shambolic mismanagement of energy policy” in what was “probably the quickest U-turn in British history”.
Mr Hayes told MPs the Energy Bill, which the government plans to publish next month, will reform the energy market and increase competition.
Well, you’ve every right to be.
The government say they want to introduce legislation to help consumers with their fuel bills. That much is clear.
What is a good deal less clear is if they plan – as the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday – to make companies pass on the lowest tariffs.
In other words, to use legislation to force firms to give customers the best deals available.
Today ministers have carefully refrained from repeating Mr Cameron’s tough message.
Indeed Energy Minister John Hayes said ministers would evaluate existing voluntary agreements “to see if legislation is needed.”
This confusion has prompted Opposition accusations of another omnishambles – or as some on Twitter have begun to refer to it “a combi-shambles”.
And at a time when the government is seeking to re-assert its credentials for competence – in the wake of the West Coast Rail upset – it’s a row Mr Cameron could well have done without.
He said the government needed a “robust” relationship with the six big energy firms and would take the “necessary steps to ensure people get the best possible deal”.
A number of options were being considered, he confirmed, including an evaluation of whether voluntary agreements made by the energy companies in April should be “made binding” through legislation.
Under this voluntary arrangement the six main energy providers agreed to contact customers once a year to tell them what the best tariff is for them, and how to get it and to contact customers coming to the end of a fixed-term contract with the same advice.
“This is a complicated area and we will discuss with the industry, consumer groups and the regulator in order to work through the detail,” Mr Hayes said.
Speaking to the BBC, Energy Secretary Ed Davey confirmed he was working on a plan to require energy companies to inform customers of the lowest tariffs available, but did not mention the prime minister’s more radical proposal to force them to charge the lowest tariff.
“I’ve been working with the deputy prime minister and others, working with the energy companies, to try to drive more competition, to get them to agree that they will tell their customers what are the best available tariffs, so customers can save money,” he said.